Swamp Citizens – Drought Relief

As large, voracious predators at the top of the food chain, we might think that alligators do nothing but devour their fellow creatures that inhabit the swamp. And it is only the sense, swiftness or camouflage that keeps the alligator from causing the extinction of all in its path. But this stereotype is not necessarily the case. Alligators actually do quite a bit to help the other swamp creatures survive.

American Alligator in a “gator hole” in the Okefenokee National Wildlife Refuge, Georgia. March 11, 2015. ©www.williamwisephoto.com. Please don’t steal my images. Download and use legally at Dreamstime.com.

Many swamps are subject to the frequent ebbs and flows of drought and flood. It is during the periods of low water that alligators are most helpful. As part of their life history, gators move a good bit of earth. They tear up aquatic vegetation and construct “runs” and trails, and also dig out ponds. As water levels decrease and the swamp dries up, often the only water remaining is within these “gator holes.”

According to Kelby Ouchley in his book American Alligator – Ancient Predator in the Modern World, “alligators use their snout, front legs, and tail to excavate ponds called alligator holes. Ranging in size from 8 to 50 feet in diameter, they are often dug down to the shallow limestone bedrock.”

Some populations of fish might disappear if it weren’t for the water-retaining constructions of the alligator. Hydrophilic plant species requiring wet soil can still thrive near gator trails as the rest of the habitat desiccates.  Even the larger mammals and birds gather around the gator holes for refreshment during prolonged dry spells.

Their drought relief engineering shows that the American Alligator is a good Swamp Citizen!

iNaturalist observation: https://www.inaturalist.org/observations/58165525

  • Ouchley, K.. American Alligator: Ancient Predator in the Modern World. University Press of Florida, 2013.


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